Wilburton
A small village near Ely, Cambridgeshire

The SWCLT Site


Wilburton Overdevelopment

Laragh Homes originally put forward proposals for housing on part of this land - off Townsend Mews - for the development of around 50 houses. East Cambridgeshire District Council (ECDC) rejected the proposals (Site Assessment Evidence Report - November 2017 - p.941) for the following reasons:

The site is rejected as development would be a visual intrusion to the countryside, would not relate well to the built form of the village and safe vehicular access may be difficult to achieve.

Clearly the original site had some issues and was rightly excluded from the (now revoked) 2018 local plan.

The original site also scored badly on:

  • Proximity to medical services - greater than 20 min walk
  • Proximity to secondary school - greater than 20 min walk
  • Proximity to employment sites - greater than 20 min walk
  • Local road impact
  • Available primary school capacity - limited capacity
  • Available secondary school capacity - limited capacity
  • Conservation Area - site is within CA
  • Visual Impact - detrimental impact on landscape/townscape or key views - visually intrusive

The site assessments carried out were a democratic process, involving consultation with and allowing comment from the community, as well as land owners, developers and third parties - such as the County Council.

A professional assessment for Wilburton Primary School states: "Village school on small constrained site no potential for expansion" - with CCC separately stating (PDF document) in a general comment that:

the primary school is operating close to capacity on a constrained site preventing further expansion. Although only small scale development is proposed it may be necessary to seek mitigation at a neighbouring village school.

It should be noted that “small” in this context was considered to be around 35 homes, relating to a single site originally accepted in the site assessment - that being off Station Road.

The developer, Laragh Homes, campaigned strongly to have the Townsend Mews site included - but all of the counter arguments put forward by the developer failed to convince ECDC that the site was suitable for development.

Underterred by the rejection, Laragh Homes appears to have entered into discussions with SWCLT (despite being involved already with a potential SWCLT development in Station Road), and extended the site to include Camps Field - allowing a separate, if still limited, access onto the A1123. Options for building were signed in May 2018, long before the SWCLT involved the village community. By involving SWCLT, the site can bypass certain planning restrictions - such as being outside of the defined development envelope for the village, and they can claim "community involvement".

Some of the arguments and comments made by the developer (see here), and which are now surfacing again as part of the SWCLT case, are over simplified - for example, the extension of the 30mph zone (if it could happen at all), or traffic lights and a zebra crossing on an already dangerously busy A road. Others are a stretch of even the best imagination (for instance the site is within walking distance of shops and services?). And one only has to drive past the Manor Farm development in Stretham to judge the extent to which the visual impact on the countryside has been "mitigated". Other highly questionable arguments put forward included proximity to Ely, some 3 miles away? And a regular bus service to Ely and Cambridge. Both suggest scant local knowledge! As we are some distance from Ely and Cambridge, the statements that "it is therefore considered to be a relatively sustainable location for development" holds little ground.

The developer continues by discussing the "significant influence that Cambridge exerts over the District" - suggesting "by ensuring that more new housing is directed towards one of the larger, more sustainable villages in the south of the District closest to Cambridge; thus minimising travel distances and ensuring residents have access to sustainable modes of transport". Wilburton is a medium village, with only a single bus service per day to Cambridge. Maybe they are confused with Stretham? A large village, with a regular direct service to Cambridge. Either way, suggesting we are ideal as an out-commuter location for Cambridge is not sustainable, given the distance and growing concerns over traffic, pollution and climate change.

It is perhaps worth noting that the draft Local Plan did include first one, and then two sites in the village which were considered suitable for development, off Station Road and Clarkes Lane. Together these two sites would provide around 60 new homes, including affordable homes and would be the largest potential developments that the village has seen for many years. The inclusion of these sites provides further evidence of the unsuitability, given its size and location, of the Townsend Mews (now Camps Field) site. Now that the 2015 local plan has been retained, the situation returns to suitable development for Wilburton as being small, infill development.

One question that needs to be answered, if Laragh Homes had been successful - would SWCLT still have been involved?

Next: The Proposal